Travel industry rep wants US to speed up visas |

Travel industry rep wants US to speed up visas

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – A top commercial-travel industry representative said Tuesday the U.S. is losing visitors to other countries by making it unnecessarily slow and difficult for prospective international travelers to get visas.

Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, called it unfortunate that more Chinese people visit France than the United States, but said that’s a result of lengthy visitor requirements that give international travelers a bad first impression.

“The greatest barrier is making it a priority and also the concern that if you don’t change the status quo, there’s not a risk of something bad happening,” Dow told The Associated Press after an industry panel attended by U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and a staffer for Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Dow said the tourism industry faces difficulty from lawmakers worried about terrorism. He said the industry doesn’t want to hurt safety as it proposes changes.

“People are saying, ‘On my watch, I don’t want to change the system,’ even though the numbers and the logic are screaming,” Dow said. “People jump all over if something bad happens. Bad stuff happens around the world anyway.”

Dow and industry executives from hotels, booking sites and other travel companies are in Las Vegas this week to talk with influential government officials from the U.S. and other countries at the Global Travel & Tourism Summit.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to give a keynote Wednesday, while Mexican President Felipe Calderon was scheduled to speak Thursday. Top tourism officials from other countries, including China, South Africa, Singapore and Japan are scheduled to participate.

The U.S. Travel Association has proposed changes to the U.S. visa system, arguing the process should take no more than 10 days. The group said doing so would bring more travelers to the United States, creating 1.3 million jobs by 2020 and producing $859 million in added economic output.

Dow and other panelists said the current system requires frequent business travelers to have an in-person interview every time they visit, and visas for others can take months, with long waits at offices in other countries and paperwork most Americans would find invasive.

“The State Department should be all over this. They should want 110 million, 120 million people going back somewhere and saying ‘You know, they’re pretty nice people, what a great place,'” Dow said, calling tourism a form of diplomacy.

Heck said that the industry’s concerns make sense and that he’d like to study the issues further.

Michael Vannozzi, a Las Vegas staffer for Reid, told the panel that Reid believes tourism should be easier, but said it’s tough to get lawmakers to act.

“We have problems convincing people that this is a priority, and we’re the Senate majority leader’s office,” Vannozzi said.

Reid spokesman Zac Petkanas in Las Vegas said his office has been working with the State Department to see whether internal changes can help make visa processing go smoother.

“Progress has been made, however we still have a lot of work to do specifically for tourist visas, which Nevada’s economy relies upon,” Petkanas said.